THE STORY OF PIEDMONT HEIGHTS
Thanks to PiHi resident Bill Seay, our neighborhood historian, for his countless hours researching and writing about our community's history – in addition to his long years of service on the PHCA Board of Directors, Foundation, and Business Alliance!
Last Updated: November 2023
In the early 1800s, four miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, a grist mill on Clear Creek spawned a settlement called Easton. Today, bounded by the Atlanta BeltLine, Interstate Highway I-85 and Piedmont Road it is Atlanta’s oldest and most unique neighborhood, called Piedmont Heights.
Easton was in the heart of what was once the Creek Indian Nation, one of the largest groups of native American tribes. The Creeks controlled much of the present-day southeastern United States from the Tennessee River to the Atlantic Ocean. They called themselves Muscogee and Ocmulgee, but the British named them Creeks after a tribe which lived along the Ochese Creek. The territory of the Muskogee Tribe, the largest in the Creek Nation, included the area around Easton.
In 1821, with the Treaty of Indian Springs, the Creeks ceded all their land, millions of acres, to the federal government. It was divided into districts, roughly 202 acres each and just over a half-mile square. There was an existing network of ancient trails throughout the area, many of which would later become Atlanta streets.
In 1822, in recognition of his military service during the War of 1812, Benjamin Plaster was granted 3,000 acres of bottomland along Clear Creek where it empties into Peachtree Creek. Two years later, Archibald Holland acquired a tract several miles to the southwest where a railhead was established in 1837. A village called Terminus soon followed, later renamed Marthasville, then Atlanta. Other settlers followed, living in wagons and tents until they could build houses, many later immortalized by street names such as Cheshire Bridge Road, Plaster’s Avenue, Collier Road, Luckie Street, and so forth.
Benjamin’s tract featured a prominent knoll called Council Bluff, purported to be the highest point in the area and a neutral zone where in times past the local Indians held their important gatherings. A small group of friendly Indians remained encamped along Peachtree Creek about a mile east of Council Bluff, buffered from the settlers by thick woods. The settlers and Indians inhabited the area until 1836 when the Indians were removed to the west by the U.S. Military.
Benjamin built a bridge across Peachtree Creek north of Council Bluff, and the trail to it became known as Plaster’s Bridge Road – today’s Piedmont Road. The bridge’s stone abutments remain intact under the current Downtown Connector interstate highway. Two sections of the old road remain, now divided, and are called Plasters Avenue and Plaster Bridge Road.
Benjamin’s son, Edward, built a house on a nearby knoll west of Council Bluff. Edward’s handyman, called Gold Tooth John, built stone steps leading up to the house. During the Civil War, Edward’s house was destroyed by Union troops who installed entrenchments on the site. In the early 1950s, a Holiday Inn was built on the site, and legend has it that old Gold Tooth John still wandered about the site late at night looking for old minnie balls from the Civil War. A historic marker honoring Gold Tooth John was later installed beside the old steps and tells a bit of his story. The stone steps and marker remained in place until around 2020 when the InTown Suites property was razed for the development of the Fairfield Residential apartment complex.
Robert Lemon bought 2.5 Land Lots abutting Plaster’s tract, which included a portion of Clear Creek, the southern half of which today is a portion of Piedmont Park and the northern part in the Piedmont Heights neighborhood.
As more settlers followed, a man named Jones built a grist mill on the east bank of Clear Creek near today’s Ansley Mall shopping center. He no doubt also sold dry goods and other basic necessities to the surrounding settlers. Later he sold the mill to a man named Walker, whose name is more commonly associated with the mill. The mill was eventually demolished, and in 1887 one of its millstones was incorporated into the facade of the Gentlemen’s Driving Club, today’s Piedmont Driving Club, on the old site of Walker’s home. In the spring of 2023, a second millstone was unearthed from the banks of Clear Creek in 2023 behind today’s Ansley Mall shopping center during construction of a section of the Atlanta BeltLine.
Jones’ grist mill sparked a later cluster of stores about a half-mile east on Plaster’s Bridge Road near Council Bluff, and the area became known as Easton.
In 1831 the Clear Creek Post Office was established in the home of Meredith Collier on the west side of the creek. Collier had helped survey a road through the area from Decatur to a proposed ferry crossing on the Chattahoochee River. James Montgomery built a ferry at the crossing in 1833, and the road was named Montgomery Ferry Road.
In 1833, the first settler to arrive in what would become Atlanta was Hardy Ivy, who built a “double” log cabin on the later corner of Courtland and Ellis Streets.
In 1835 the growing Easton community decided it needed a school for the children. A one-room log schoolhouse was built beside a cool, clear stream bubbling from under a large rock on the east side of Council Bluff, at today’s intersection of Piedmont and Montgomery Ferry roads, and the surrounding area became known as the Rock Spring Community.
Around 1850 Captain Hezekiah Cheshire arrived from South Carolina. His sons, Napoleon and Jerome, settled on opposite sides of the south fork of Peachtree Creek. They built a bridge over the creek joining their properties, and the road leading to it became known as Cheshire Bridge Road.
By 1853 the nearby city of Atlanta had increased to 6,000 inhabitants and its citizens wanted to create a county with Atlanta as the county seat. The Georgia Legislature carved a new county out of Dekalb County, which included Easton, and named it Fulton.
In 1864 General Sherman’s Union soldiers brought the Civil War to Atlanta. Confederate General T. J. Wood built defensive entrenchments along the high ground on the eastern edge of Easton on the property of Benjamin Plaster’s son Edwin, putting the community in the Battle of Atlanta. These entrenchments remained in place until the 1950s when they were destroyed during the construction of one of the first Holiday Inn hotels.
After the war, Captain James M. Liddell acquired 40 acres in the heart of the Rock Spring Community and built a house on Montgomery Ferry Road, near the intersection with today’s Monroe Drive, said to be the second-oldest in Atlanta.
The Rock Spring log schoolhouse was rebuilt on East Rock Springs Road at Morningside Drive, and in 1868 Professor Joel Mable, a Scottish Presbyterian from North Carolina, expanded its curriculum to include religious principles and technical training. Mable also organized the Union Sunday School, which met in the schoolhouse on Sundays.
In 1870, the Rock Spring Presbyterian Church was formed and erected a simple wooden sanctuary, which the Atlanta Constitution newspaper described as “…on a level and beautiful spot with a noble forest growth around it... a neat-looking attractive church, flanked by a cozy little schoolhouse…” Hezekiah Cheshire was a charter member.
In 1875, the Rock Spring School was moved back to its original location at today’s intersection of Piedmont Road and Montgomery Ferry Road, next to the church. In 1890 the school was relocated to the ground floor of a new two-story building erected behind the church. The upper floor served as a meeting hall for the Farmer’s Alliance.
In 1879 the Atlanta and Richmond Air Line Railway opened a new line between Atlanta and Toccoa, Georgia, with a depot at Easton. The Airline Belle train, named for Belle Foreacre, wife of the head of the Piedmont Airline Railroad, allowed Easton residents to commute to Atlanta without having to ford Clear Creek, which was still without a bridge and had very high steep banks. The train would make unscheduled stops anywhere along the line if someone waved it down at a crossroads.
Easton grew to 100 residents by the 1880s and 1883 the Georgia Pacific Belt Line Railroad connected with the Airline Railway just north of Easton in an area called Belt Junction, later renamed Armour Station, now called Armour Yards and the Armour-Ottley area.
In 1895 North Boulevard, today an Interstate Highway, was built through Easton as a main route into Atlanta, splitting the growing community off from Belt Junction and a small cluster of homes, mostly wooden shacks, called the Armour Community, inhabited by descendants of former slaves.
In 1904, a new school building was erected on the opposite side of Piedmont Road, and Rock Spring School was incorporated into the Atlanta School System where it remained until the 1950s when it was relocated to Manchester Road.
In 1909 the Armour Community decided it needed a church. Martha Lewis, Mae Lizza Cremmer, and Gertrude Lewis borrowed a car and drove to Greene County in south Georgia to seek a pastor. They brought back the Reverend George Gladson who formed the Mayson Chapel Baptist Church. In 1924 a wood-framed church was erected. In the 1930s the building doubled as an African American school. In 1956 the surrounding area was purchased for redevelopment as an industrial park, and the residents had to relocate. A handful of loyal parishioners, several well up in years continued to commute in each Sunday morning for services.
In 1912 Atlanta expanded its boundaries eastward, absorbed Easton, and renamed it Piedmont Heights.
In 1917 the Morris and Armor Companies built two fertilizer plants on the old Benjamin Plaster property in the Armour Community. Men living in the Armour Community worked in the plants, and the women cooked meals for the other workers living in the company bunkhouse. However, fumes from the plants soon became unbearable, and an Atlanta Constitution newspaper story dated September 11, 1917, entitled “Legal Steps Planned in Fertilizer Fight,” stated that at a meeting the day before “…residents of a territory from several miles around the fertilizer plants... unanimously approved a resolution to file papers of incorporation ...for the proposed town of North Atlanta to abate the alleged nuisance in case the usual means of abating it through legal means should fail.” Reverend Johnson of Rock Springs Church stated that “...fumes from the plants caused members of his congregation to cough all through the services.” Nevertheless, the proposed new town never came about, and the noxious plants survived until the 1950s.
In 1918 the Airline Bell train service was discontinued. Clear Creek Post Office had been closed since 1904, and the main section of Plaster’s Bridge Road, paved in 1917, was renamed Piedmont Road.
In 1922 the cornerstone of Rock Spring Presbyterian Church was laid. Designed in the Gothic style by noted Welsh architect Henry H. Hopson, the building has been called “one of the most artistically designed small churches in the south.”
In 1924 the Georgia Governor’s Horse Guard stables were moved from inside the city limits of Atlanta to the “country” on Montgomery Ferry Road.
In 1925 landscape architect W. L. Monroe bought 15 acres on North Boulevard at Rock Springs Road and built a home with trees he felled himself and sawed on the property. He also established and operated a landscape design business and a popular nursery called Monroe Gardens for many years. Today the tall stone fireplace from a lodge Monroe had built for public gatherings and two small stone structures (one actually a bomb shelter from the 1950s) which resemble English garden follies now make up the grounds of the Ansley-Monroe Villas condominiums that now occupy the site.
A large house built by Monroe at 1945 Monroe Drive for his daughter is still standing but has been converted into rental apartments. In 1937 North Boulevard was renamed Monroe Drive in honor of Mr. Monroe’s many landscape projects throughout the city.
In 1927 Atlanta’s first strip mall, Morningside Shopping Center, on Piedmont Road at Monroe Drive, opened with eleven tenants including a florist, grocery, hardware store, bakery, and a Masonic Lodge on the second floor. The lodge later became the popular cabaret, Upstairs at Gene and Gabe’s, frequented regularly by visiting notables such as President Jimmy Carter and celebrity entertainers.
In 1928 the City of Atlanta began annexing lots in Piedmont Heights along North Boulevard, which gave new recognition to the little community. By the 1930s homes on North Boulevard and Wimbledon Road were selling for almost $5,000 each.
By the late 1940s Piedmont Heights was experiencing fast residential growth on Flagler Avenue and Monroe Drive, up Rock Springs Road to the newer Allen Road and Piedmont Way, but most of the land remained forest. All four corners of the intersection of North Boulevard and Piedmont Road were occupied by gasoline stations. Most of the remaining land along Clear Creek from Piedmont Road to Montgomery Ferry Road remained cow pasture except for Jarrado’s Lumber Yard where the Kroger store is today. West Lumber company built a facility on the opposite side of Clear Creek in today’s Armour-Ottley industrial district. The area east of North Boulevard to Rock Springs Road was vacant except for the Liddell House on Montgomery Ferry Road and a few others. The area north of Wimbledon Road was still heavily forested.
Because the Piedmont Heights residential community had no official boundaries, its undeveloped edges were vulnerable. In the late 1940s a large tract in the northern part of the community was taken to build Interstate Highway 85. The new highway, elevated on earth fill, created a massive wall between Piedmont Heights and the Armour-Ottley area, limiting its access to a single street off Monroe Drive through a narrow tunnel, which today funnels heavy truck traffic from the industrial area onto neighborhood streets.
In 1951, the Morningside Baptist Church in nearby Morningside neighborhood purchased a 14-acre tract between Piedmont and Montgomery Ferry Roads, including the former Council Bluff. The congregation erected a beautiful sanctuary with a steeple which it was said could be seen from downtown Atlanta. An early parishioner planted hundreds of azaleas and dogwoods on the property. In the early 2000s, the church leased a portion of its property to the Heritage Preparatory School, which leveled the top of Council Bluff for a soccer field.
On the evening of October 12, 1956, a group of one hundred and three Piedmont Heights homeowners met at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church and formed the Piedmont Heights Civic Club to protect the “vitality and beauty of the neighborhood,” which was threatened with urbanization by the growing City of Atlanta. The meeting was attended by Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield. Bylaws were adopted, and Howard Allison was elected president. The meeting lasted until 11:30 p.m., and the minutes defined the new neighborhood’s boundaries as “Piedmont Road, Montgomery Ferry Drive, Belt Line Railroad, Expressway, Plaster Road to Piedmont.”
In the fall of 1957, Stein Printing Company applied to rezone a land parcel for a printing plant on Monroe Drive on the northern edge of the residential area. Negotiations between Stein and the Civic Club were facilitated by City officials, including the Urban Renewal Director, the Director of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the Joint City-County Planning Board, City Planning and Zoning Committee, and City Board of Alderman. The result was a donation to the Civic Club of 2.5 acres of land to buffer the homes. Initially called Monroe Park, in 1961 the property was formally dedicated as Gotham Way Park though it would remain unimproved land for the next 45 years.
Ten years later the neighborhood petitioned the City for better traffic controls on all cross streets and a “flasher light” at Monroe Drive and Montgomery Ferry Road. Little else was done to protect or improve the neighborhood, and rezonings began to occur until the number of single-family lots was reduced to only 412. Since then many of the homes have been converted into rental duplexes, triplexes – and even businesses. One such house now contains eight “apartments” and some single family homes have become short-term rentals.
In 1964 the open-air Ansley Mall was built at the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Monroe Drive near the old Easton train depot location. It boasted a 35,000 square foot Colonial super market, 24 stores, and a 175-seat mini-cinema. Later a smaller center called Ansley II was built across Monroe Drive. Today Ansley Mall is featured in the Mall Hall of Fame as a rare classic example of open-air landscaped courtyard malls. The much smaller Ansley Square strip shopping center followed on the opposite side of Clear Creek. Commercial uses slowly spread north on Piedmont Avenue taking over the few remaining residences along that edge of the community.
All new development was not good, however. In the 1970s Atlanta modified its zoning ordinance to restrict adult entertainment in commercial areas. Soon those businesses began relocating to the industrial zones along the northern and eastern edges of Piedmont Heights. The late-night adult clubs, bars, and traffic drew undesirable elements, which continue to have a seriously deleterious effect on the neighborhood’s quality of life.
In 1992 the Civic Club changed its name to Piedmont Heights Civic Association (PHCA), but the homeowners’ interests was its focus. In the mid 1990s its board debated redrawing the neighborhood boundaries to exclude any non-single-family properties, although no action was taken. As late as 2005, the association’s map of Piedmont Heights still focused on the single-family homes and excluded the commercial sectors. Ironically, several new apartment complexes had been built with a combined number of units over twice that of the single-family homes, putting them well into the residential minority.
In 1993, due to rising property taxes and ongoing maintenance costs, PHCA tried to give Gotham Way Park to the City but without success. It then flirted with selling it to a developer but nothing came of that. A suggestion to build a swimming pool in the park was considered and abandoned. The park’s amenities of rusty swings and a few picnic tables got little use because the mosquito swarms were so annoying.
Throughout the 1990s, the Board discussed many ideas to promote the neighborhood including installing identification signage at entry points, auto license plate frames with the Association’s logo, T-shirts, a newsletter, etc. The only project implemented was a recipe book, A Taste of Piedmont Heights, produced in 1999 now long out of print.
With the arrival of the 21st century, the neighborhood dynamic began to improve. Younger couples with children began moving in, but traffic was even more pronounced, and problems related to the nearby adult entertainment businesses were becoming much worse. The PHCA Board began to change also, attracting newer and younger members with fresh ideas and new energy.
In 2005, a local television station purchased a building on the old Stein Printing property and proposed to build an addition that would infringe on the Gotham Way Park buffer. Negotiations resulted in the station’s contributing $75,000 to PHCA – $5,000 for its legal fees and the balance for landscaping in the buffer and improvements to the park. A master plan, on hold for lack of funds, was finally implemented, and a real neighborhood park with trails, children’s play equipment, and a shelter for neighborhood gatherings were constructed. PHCA membership subsequently increased by 20%.
In the early 2000s Barbara Wright Cheshire, of her family’s seventh generation, wrote a book called The Spirit of Rock Spring documenting the history of the Rock Spring Presbyterian Church and the families of the Rock Spring community. The book includes “True Stories and Legends,” old family recipes, favorite psalms, and poems by parishioners. One story recounts that in 1871 the Ku Klux Klan, in full regalia, marched into the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning with an envelope containing money to pay off the church’s mortgage.
Also in 2005, the City announced the Atlanta BeltLine, which would circle the city, running along the neighborhood’s western border in the old Air Line Belle railroad corridor, promising that one day Piedmont Heights’ residents would be able to commute to Atlanta by train again. The next year, PHCA formed its first Planning Committee. The committee updated the neighborhood’s map to match that of the City. The new plan revealed that the single-family homes were less than one quarter of the total dwelling units, barely one third of the land area, and that almost half of Piedmont Heights was non-residential.
Because Piedmont Heights had developed haphazardly along old farm roads and early highways, it had an unorganized street grid, unlike surrounding newer neighborhoods. Over time the residential area had become clogged by commuter traffic just passing through. Heavily traveled Monroe Drive was the only north and south street running entirely through the neighborhood, and the few cross streets created intersections almost a quarter-mile apart. Only three streets had sidewalks, and most residents had to walk in the streets with traffic to visit neighbors or nearby businesses. Since then, Rock Springs Road and Wimbledon Road have received sidewalks – but only on one side.
The anticipated BeltLine drew speculators proposing large multi-family as well as mixed-use developments. The first new projects, an apartment complex and a townhouse cluster increased the number of residential units in the neighborhood by a third. More commercial development occurred as well, greatly exacerbating the traffic problems.
A more comprehensive plan for Piedmont Heights, prepared by the neighborhood itself, was clearly needed. To begin, PHCA asked the Livable Communities Coalition to facilitate a workshop to develop objectives for the neighborhood’s future. The exercise produced a list of goals and a recommendation that Piedmont Heights engage the surrounding neighborhoods in the process.
Piedmont Heights is at the center of a cluster of six neighborhoods, the Armour-Ottley industrial area, and a transitioning commercial district on Cheshire Bridge Road. It is severely impacted by a unique convergence of transportation infrastructure, including an interstate highway, MARTA rail line, Atlanta BeltLine, AMTRAK and other rail lines, thoroughfares, and multiple streets connecting to the surrounding neighborhoods. Piedmont Heights could not solve its problems within its own borders. The Planning Committee created a map it named Greater Piedmont Heights, which showed Piedmont Heights within this larger context of five abutting neighborhoods and the Armour-Ottley industrial area, and began to engage its neighbors in the planning process.
To lay the groundwork for a master plan, PHCA compiled an “atlas” of the neighborhood, assisted pro bono by architect David Green, who identified its physical characteristics and areas subject to redevelopment. Soon after, Atlanta’s Department of Transportation initiated Connect Atlanta, a transportation planning project, and sought input from the City’s neighborhoods. David then produced a more comprehensive plan for Piedmont Heights identifying vehicular and pedestrian problem areas and suggesting solutions.
In 2007, still pondering how to create a master plan, PHCA considered soliciting a student intern from the Georgia Tech School of Urban Planning and called Professor Michael Dobbins, former Atlanta Planning Commissioner and then a board member of the Georgia Conservancy. Dobbins arranged for the Conservancy to conduct a Blueprints for Successful Communities preliminary planning exercise for the community.
Representatives from the abutting neighborhoods, the Armour-Ottley area, and other non-residential districts in Greater Piedmont Heights were invited to participate – and Blueprints Piedmont Heights was launched. $11,225 was raised to cover the cost of the project, the majority from the businesses in and around Piedmont Heights. In appreciation of their support, PHCA made these businesses Supporting Members, the first on record, and a big step toward neighborhood unity.
In the fall of 2007 PHCA celebrated its 50th Anniversary.
In 2008 Atlanta City Council unexpectedly redrew the neighborhood’s City Council District boundaries to include a portion of the Armour-Ottley area. This change was quickly reversed but drew attention to this huge area that was beginning to impact the residential community.
Armour-Ottley had previously been merely a cluster of train yards and a few businesses, warehouses, and cement plants, all of which mainly generated troublesome truck traffic through the neighborhood. A closer look revealed a vibrant mixed-use community with a locksmith, pet groomer, service station, snack bar, caterers, interior designers, professional offices, 350 apartments, and, of course, the historic Mayson Chapel Baptist Church. One cluster of businesses had banded together and named themselves Sweetwater Design District after the popular Sweetwater Brewery in the area. Armour-Ottley had evolved into a surprisingly vibrant, exciting mixed-use district.
As the BeltLine planning proceeded, Piedmont Heights residents played significant roles. PHCA members assumed leadership positions as volunteers, and the neighborhood was often cited by the planners as an example for other neighborhoods to emulate. BeltLine plans adopted the Blueprints Piedmont Heights concept for the Ansley Mall area to convert it into a town center with small blocks, streetscapes, pedestrian plazas, and improved connectivity to the Piedmont Heights residential areas as well as abutting neighborhoods.
Other planning activities began to ripple through Greater Piedmont Heights. The Lindridge-Martin Manor neighborhood did a Blueprints project. Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition created the North Fork Trail Study for a Peachtree Creek Greenway, and the South Fork Conservancy designed a Confluence Trail along the creek’s South Fork. A Cheshire Bridge Road Business Association began forming, and the Clifton Corridor Coalition began developing plans for a transit line connecting Emory University to MARTA and the BeltLine in the Armour-Ottley area.
The plans by others produced a multiplicity of scenarios for Greater Piedmont Heights with widely differing concepts which, if realized, would result in a chaos of uncoordinated development. As PHCA characterized it, “A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Greater Piedmont Heights consists of a thousand pictures which do not fit together.” The future vision of Piedmont Heights hung in the balance.
BeltLine planning awakened Piedmont Heights to a multi-modal transit opportunity in the Armour-Ottley industrial area where the BeltLine could merge with MARTA, Amtrak, the proposed Clifton Corridor transit line, interstate highway I-85, and local streets to create a transportation nexus unique in Atlanta. Unfortunately, this opportunity was entangled by overlapping government authorities, county political jurisdictions, city and state representative districts, and Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs). However, Piedmont Heights had created strong links with its neighbors and business districts and good stakeholder awareness of the need for a comprehensive transit vision for the greater area.
In June 2011, PHCA asked Georgia Conservancy to facilitate another workshop with the stakeholders in Greater Piedmont Heights to review the four-year-old Blueprints Piedmont Heights documents and focus on current issues. Architects, a transportation planner, a Peachtree Creek expert, and the Chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit F guided the discussion. The issues centered on vehicular and pedestrian networks, connectivity between neighborhoods, green space, and the overall community framework. The guiding message from the event was “change will happen, it should be anticipated, it will be incremental, continued stakeholder participation will be critical, and success will depend upon ongoing communications between all the neighborhoods.”
PHCA needed architects for its master plan – and who better than those most familiar with the area. Peter Drey (Peter Drey Architects) had designed an innovative plan for the Buford Highway connector. John Wyle (Rosser International) had designed a recreational greenway along Peachtree Creek through Armour-Ottley. And David Green (Perkins+Will) had already donated much pro bono planning services to Piedmont Heights.
Peter, John, and David knew each other well and agreed to collaborate. Adding depth to the team was traffic engineer Heather Alhadef, formerly with Atlanta’s Department of Transportation, and Ryan Gravel, Father of the Atlanta Beltline, both then also with Perkins+Will. The Georgia Conservancy added planner Johanna McCrehan and intern Andrew Tate. The chair of the PHCA Planning Committee, architect Faset J. “Bill” Seay, was old friends with all these professionals and helped orchestrate their efforts.
Fortunately, the task consisted mainly of merging existing plans and studies, which eliminated the need for extensive research. The team agreed to a modest fee of only $15,000, and in December 2011, PHCA launched a fundraising campaign. Atlanta City Council Representative Alex Wan arranged a $1,000 contribution from the City, and Piedmont Heights residents and businesses who had contributed to Blueprints Piedmont Heights pitched in again. Donations flowed in from adjacent neighborhoods and businesses as well. One business executive, whose company had contributed to the Blueprints project, expressed regret that because of the bad economic conditions, he had strict orders to not spend any money not already budgeted. Then he paused and said, “But, I think the project is so worthwhile that I will donate $500 out of my own pocket.” The largest contribution of $2,400 was from the Sweetwater Design District, whose members became key participants in the process and earned high praise from the community.
By the spring of 2012, $15,200 had been raised and the planners began their work. The BeltLine plans were the foundation to build upon as they had broad support. However, two of the BeltLine Subarea Plans, which overlapped on the northern edge of Piedmont Heights, showed conflicting transit, trail, and station locations.
On March 28, 2012, the first public meeting was attended by over 50 stakeholders from neighborhoods and businesses in Greater Piedmont Heights. The planners presented a composite plan of the “thousand pictures” of Piedmont Heights (plans by others) and outlined how they could be molded into a unified plan. Most attendees were familiar with the Blueprints Piedmont Heights documents and the BeltLine Master Plans for the area, so the groundwork was well laid and the objectives clear.
As planning proceeded, reports went out monthly to over 80 stakeholders in the surrounding neighborhoods and industrial and business districts, Atlanta Neighborhood Planning Units E and F, various civic organizations, and others with an interest in Greater Piedmont Heights including Atlanta City Council Member Alex Wan and Georgia State Representative Patricia Gardner.
The Greater Piedmont Heights Master Framework Plan was presented on September 13, 2010, and received enthusiastically at a meeting of approximately 40 stakeholders. A tapestry of concepts from previous plans has been woven into an exciting vision of a “much greater” Piedmont Heights. A street network with European-style roundabouts allowed traffic to flow around the residential areas. The Buford Highway Connector, lowered to natural grade, would be a landscaped boulevard with a plaza below the I-85 highway overpass, reuniting Piedmont Heights with Armour-Ottley. A nature trail along Peachtree Creek linked the Lindridge LaVista neighborhood with the North Fork Trail and South Fork Conservancy's greenway and trails. A multi-modal station in Armour-Ottley merged existing and proposed transit lines, streets, and trails to provide access to all parts of the city. Monroe Drive was narrowed from four lanes to two with a landscaped median, turn lanes, bicycle lanes, and safe crosswalks. A business district Town Square featured the proposed BeltLine Arboretum Water Garden on Clear Creek with a transit station blending seamlessly with the residential district and adjacent neighborhoods.
The highlight of the presentation occurred at the end of the evening when a lady stood up and said, “I came tonight because I was against the plan – but now I’m for it!” The audience burst out in laughter and loud applause. In 2013 the Greater Piedmont Heights Master Framework Plan received an Award of Excellence from the City of Atlanta Urban Design Commission; the Georgia Planning Association cited it as an Outstanding Planning Document; and a past president of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects praised the plan as “Very nicely done!” with “…good/practical solutions.”
Piedmont Heights’ 3,000+ residents occupy single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, a co-op, and mid-rise apartment buildings. Its two shopping centers have stores of every variety. Restaurants, bowling alley, and several bars provide music and entertainment. Banks, pharmacies, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, Red Cross Blood Center, hotel, churches, gasoline stations, auto repair shops, and a bicycle repair shop round out the parade of businesses led by, perhaps most notably, Atlanta’s landmark Gorilla Car Wash.
Piedmont Heights is far evolved from its bucolic roots and 1940s post-war suburban character, but it’s new framework plan harks back to its township roots. One day BeltLine trains will replace the old Air Line Belle, Clear Creek will become an attractive centerpiece for a revitalized business district, and residents will be able to walk throughout the neighborhood on safe sidewalks and trails. Today Piedmont Heights has new pride in itself as a historic and unique mixed-use, mixed-income, integrated neighborhood of residents, businesses, and institutions.
The Piedmont Heights Civic Association, inspired by its vision for the future, updated its bylaws to be inclusive of the interests of all in Piedmont Heights. In 2013 the nonprofit Piedmont Heights Community Improvement Foundation was created and quickly raised over $5,000 to help fund a neighborhood map and identification signage as well as develop a new neighborhood image. Over the years, it has contributed to significant improvements to Gotham Way Park.
In 2014 the Piedmont Heights Parents Association was formed to represent the interests of the growing number of families with children in the greater neighborhood.
Also in 2014 the PHCA Business Committee was created to give voice in the Civic Association affairs to the 100+ local businesses, which occupy at least half the total land area of the community. That same year, estate developers had begun revitalizing the Armour-Ottley industrial area abutting the Piedmont Heights neighborhood.
A nearby recently renovated five-building complex was renamed Armour Junction and another became Armour Yards. The businesses in both areas identify closely with Piedmont Heights, and many soon joined the Business Committee.
In 2016 the Business Committee expanded its territory into Armour Yards and Armour Junction, becoming the Piedmont Heights Business Association. In 2018, the Cheshire Bridge Business Association joined and the name evolved into the Greater Piedmont Heights Business Alliance.
A discordant note in this symphony of progress sounded in 2019, when the Rock Spring Presbyterian Church disbanded because of dwindling attendance. A developer bought the property and proposed to build a cluster of houses around the existing buildings. Only three houses were built but unsold when Heritage Preparatory School, the Christian elementary school across Montgomery Ferry Road at the Morningside Baptist Church property, bought the Rock Spring Presbyterian property, church and all. The church, on the Historic Register, will be maintained by the school, utilizing the former Sunday School rooms for a new high school and the sanctuary as an auditorium.
In 2020 the Business Alliance hired an executive director, and the group renamed itself PiHi Alliance. Businesses along Cheshire Bridge Road began joining the Alliance, making it an even stronger ally with PHCA in the joint goal of representing the interests of all the residents and businesses in Greater Piedmont Heights.
Although little Easton never became a real city, Piedmont Heights today still includes all the components of a small town and, as its motto proudly confirms, is truly a Small Town in the Big City.
In 2023, disaster struck Mayson Chapel Baptist Church. In the spring, after a heavy rainstorm, the entire roof suddenly caved in and crushed all the furnishings inside the building. Fortunately, the building was empty at the time and nobody was injured. Unfortunately, it was uninsured. The pastor, Leroy Durden, quickly took charge. The congregation had dwindled to less than two dozen parishioners, and they were able to make arrangements to hold services in a private home.
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